Chiang Mai is Northern Thailand’s largest and culturally major city. It is rapidly becoming an increasingly modern city, although it still doesn’t have the sophistication of Bangkok. There are many attractions for the crowds of foreign visitors who visit each year and due to its location in the northern mountainous region the temperature is cooler than the south, apart from March, April and May.
Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples, far too many to mention them all here, but one of the oldest and worth a visit is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep which dates from 1383. The story goes that an artefact of the Lord Buddha was placed on an elephant's back, the elephant was left to wander until it stopped, trumpeted and lay down. Where it chose to lay was said to be lucky, and so a temple was built; Wat Chiang Man contains two important and respected Buddha figures, this is Chiang Mai’s oldest temple dating from around 1296; Wat Phra Singh is positioned within the city walls and an example of traditional northern Thai style architecture. There are so many wats you can overdose, so best to choose a few of the ones that appeal to you.
Chiang Mai National Museum has a collection of ancient Buddha images, Lanna Thai works of art and war weapons. Other interesting places worth a mention are the Elephant Training Centers where you can watch the elephants give demonstrations of their forestry skills, and then take a jungle tour on elephant back through the local woods and forests; San Kamphaeng Hot Springs are found 36km from town and set amongst natural surroundings of woodland and lush hills. The springs have high sulphur content and are said to provide healing and recuperative properties. Take a visit to an Orchid & Butterfly Farm to view some colourful perennial blooms and exotic species of butterfly.
Many people visit Chiang Mai to experience a Jungle Trek. All over northern Thailand’s mountains live Lawa, Meo, Yao, Lisu, Akha and Karen hill tribes, each with its own distinguishing ceremonial dress, courtship rituals, dances, customs, language and dialect. You can take a trek from 2 up to 7 days that will take you through wooded mountains and high valleys and stay the night at an isolated hill tribe settlement. If you take a trek you could end up travelling by foot, boat, by elephant or jeep.
Lots of tourists visit Chiang Mai for the shopping. Haggle till your hearts content at the famous Night Bazaar, a stimulating place to shop especially if you are looking for souvenirs, fake goods, textiles and other odds and ends. Open every day from dusk until midnight this is the coolest time to shop. If you are seeking something more exclusive or special then head to Sankampaeng where you will find delicately made silverware and silks, wood carvings, weaving, silverware and lacquer. Also visit Chiang Mai’s famous umbrella industry and purchase a beautifully unique hand-painted umbrella.